Saturday, 12 February 2011

Planning Update February 2011

Planning Update February 2011

The Government published its Localism Bill on 13 December, which provides for neighbourhood plans, elected mayors and a whole host of community oriented changes. We have some more detailed analysis on the website, but in practice, a lot turns on what counts as a “neighbourhood”, or at least, what the local Council thinks is a neighbourhood. The Bill defines it as a parish council area, or the area of a “neighbourhood forum recognised by the Council for these purposes”. Since KA’s beef with Lambeth is the latter’s tendency to lump Kennington in with other areas, and not address its particular needs or character, the current arrangements may not be the ideal vehicle for our aspirations. But the forthcoming consultation on the planning future of individual sites (the Site Allocation Document, or SAD) will allow us to articulate a broader view about Kennington’s needs, and we are dusting off and reviewing the comments we made back in 2009.

With a view to identifying KA’s geographic spread, Cathy has analysed the postcodes of members from the membership list, with interesting results.
Of 432 postcodes given
  • 294 are SE11 - 68%
  • 114 are adjacent postcodes - 26%
    • 35 SW8 - 8% (South of Harleyford Rd/Oval and west of Clapham Rd)
    •  33 SE17 - 8% (in Southwark, west of Kennington Park Rd and Kennington Park)
    • 25 SW9 - 6% (South of Camberwell New Rd and east of Clapham Rd)
    • 12 SE1 - 3% (Albert Embankment west of railway line , area round Lambeth North tube and north of Lambeth Rd)
    • 9 SE5 - 2% (South east of John Ruskin Rd and north of Camberwell New Rd)
  • 24 Misc non adjacent - 6%
Back in September  2010, we spent four days arguing Kennington’s corner at the Examination in Public of the draft Lambeth Core Strategy, the successor to the 2007 Unitary Development Plan. The Planning Inspector has pronounced the draft “sound”, with a few small changes, and it was formally adopted by Lambeth Council on 19 January 2011. Again we have further analysis on our website – what will follow is a consultation, probably starting in April, on the planning future of individual sites (the SAD, as mentioned earlier).

Readers will know that the Mayor of London has been consulting on the future of the Vauxhall, Nine Elms and Battersea area (VNEB). The 2009 consultation was in form a consultation on 5 or so different densities of development, but without any costings for the necessary infrastructure. We thought that the top option was intolerably dense, with quite inadequate open space, and a risk that Lambeth would be asked to pick up the tab for Wandsworth’s development. Now we have an Infrastructure Study that confirms our worst fears. There is some detailed analysis on our website, but we consider that the evidence is being fixed to support the densest option, with implausible low assumptions about infrastructure needed, and gross underestimates of the cost of what is, in particular of the costs of any extension to the Northern Line.  As you can see, we are not impressed by the assumptions written in to this study, and the conclusion we draw is that the densest options canvassed (remember that the VNEB OAPF was an options consultation, not the definitive word?) are undesirable in themselves, and unaffordable in public realm and infrastructure terms. With publication of this study, the Mayor has added a revised costing chapter to the VNEB Consultation draft, and asks for further comments by 25 March 2011. We shall relish giving them to him…

As regards individual planning proposals, after the three week appeal hearing in July 2010,  Mr Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, announced his decision on the Bondway/ Octave Tower  on 9 February. We were strong opponents of the proposed development, and were delighted that Mr Pickles agreed with his Planning Inspector and rejected the proposed Tower.  The decision will make the provision of new and improved open space the touchstone for much future development at Vauxhall, and we have a more detailed analysis on the website. We think, by contrast, that the Vauxhall Triangle development is a deal less offensive, and on balance can support it, provided it comes with a seven figure Section 106 offer in aid of open space and local parks. But it is a balance judgement, and some other local groups have come down on the other side.

More recently, the developer has repackaged his proposals for 8 Albert Embankment (the Old Fire Station site), and they look a lot better than before in visual terms. But there is still an issue about how much affordable housing is on offer, and how the development sustains employment, in what has been retained as a Key Industrial and Business Area. CLS Holdings have just published imaginative proposals for their site at 86 Bondway, with a new public square (at last a developer who wants to add new open space at Vauxhall) and a suggest elevated walkway over the Vauxhall Gyratory. We also now hear that Lambeth want to sell off parts of the Old Lilian Baylis site, the Beaufoy site and the former Olive School site.

This is going to make for a busy time. The Planning Forum is a group of talented people who know their stuff, but they could really use a coordinator to make the Forum operate more smoothly.  If you can help, please email and volunteer your services.

David Boardman
Kennington Association Planning Forum
12 February 2011

The Bondway Appeal

Victory at Bondway

1 On 9 February, Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, handed down his decision in the Bondway/Octave Tower case, agreeing with his Planning Inspector, and dismissing the developer’s appeal against Lambeth Council’s rejection of his planning application. The community of Vauxhall, which expressed its opposition forthrightly throughout the process, can give itself a well deserved pat on the back, and we are pleased we were able to help articulate in planning parlance that community’s views through the many stages of paperwork and the three weeks of public inquiry back in July 2010. But decisions like this get scrutinised minutely by developers, to see which arguments might work for them in future cases, and which might not, so it is worth examining the decision in a bit more detail.

2 The main issues are conveniently set out in the Secretary of State’s conclusion, at para 26 of his decision letter:

·         The Secretary of State considers that provision of a substantial number of new homes, of which at least 20% would be affordable, and a likely increase in employment numbers at this highly sustainable location are significant benefits of the proposal. [So this is in principle a sensible place for residential development and on this site, 20% affordable housing is acceptable, despite the headline policy calling for 40%, because of a “viability” study that says that more would prejudice the economic viability of the overall development. And an estimated increase in “better quality” employment would trump the actual reduction in employment floor space that the proposed development would have made.]
·         He considers that the design of the proposed tower is of high quality in many respects and would not harm the wider historic environment. [Here the Secretary of State adopts the views of the Inspector that the proposed Bondway Tower would have been a high quality design, in itself, in many respects, with interesting textures. The Inspector also systematically reviews the impact of the proposed Tower on all the local conservation areas (particularly Vauxhall Conservation Area and Park), listed buildings and the Westminster World Heritage Site, and found it acceptable. If a Tower as tall and bulky as Bondway would have passed muster, at least on this ground, then any argument limited just to visual impact is unlikely to be successful in future.] 
·         He also considers that, in principle, the appeal site is an appropriate location for a tall building. [This accords with the now adopted Core Strategy, and is consistent with the unadopted Tall Building Design Study for Vauxhall of 2009. But as a tall building counts, on this site, as anything in excess of 30m tall (the proposed Bondway Tower would have been 149m tall), there is plenty of room for argument, and scope for sensible planning guidance, on just how tall and where, tall buildings will be acceptable in future.]
·         However, he considers that the absence of complementary public open space from the proposal is unacceptable, [This is the killer argument, and is going to set the terms of debate for all the other high density developments at Vauxhall for the foreseeable future – the Secretary of State and the Inspector both put great emphasis on a part of Planning Policy Statement Number One covering Design (PPS1 – Sustainable Development), a piece of overall planning guidance that otherwise might be regarded as a bland statement of motherhood and apple pie –High quality and inclusive design should create well-mixed and integrated developments which avoid segregation and have well-planned public spaces that bring people together and provide opportunities for physical activity and recreation.”].
·         that the tower would be overbearing in relation to its local surroundings despite some relief being provided by its form, [so arguments about local impact still have traction – per the Inspector at para 551: “Moreover, without associated public space, the visual mass of the building would be overbearing in relation to its local surroundings”, even though he regards the visual impact on the nearby Vauxhall Park as “acceptable”]
·         that there are insufficient opportunities for pedestrian movement linked to the wider public realm, [a criticism of the Bondway design was that it did nothing directly to encourage permeability of the railway embankment which divides the centre of Vauxhall]
·         that the absence of adequate dedicated play space within or very near the building is materially harmful, [even though the proposed development nominally met the target for overall private amenity space for its residents, the failure to earmark on-site chidrens’ play space within that total, and reliance instead on Vauxhall Park, counted against it. This is going to be an important argument in relation to other proposals, especially if they fail even to meet the total amenity space target.]
·         and that the intensity of use to which Vauxhall Park would be subject would erode its recreational function and character. [Given the categoric way in which this argument is formulated, this is going to make the provision of new public space a touchstone for much future development at Vauxhall – as the Inspector says (para 658 et seq): The Park is not large and is well used. Although the functions of a park and a public square differ, inevitably the Park would come under increasing pressure were public spaces not provided within the area of redevelopment to the west. The effect would be cumulative as further elements were added to the projected cluster of towers. This would be so irrespective of financial contributions to improve the Park and its play facilities. Under the proposals, no complementary public space would be provided, nor is any assured in the future. Without it, the pressure on Bondway, the surrounding areas and the Park would be unacceptable.” But the Inspector acquits the proposed Tower on grounds of overshadowing and overlooking, saying bluntly that you cannot expect privacy in a public park. So these sorts of argument are not likely to be persuasive in future.]
·         For these reasons the Secretary of State concludes that the proposal is in conflict with the development plan and with the aims of PPS1, PPS3, and PPG17. He has taken into account the benefits which would be offered by the proposal, but considers that these benefits do not outweigh the significant conflict with the development plan and the aims of national policies in other respects. [So, as is clear from comments above, no amount of S106 contribution could have sweetened the Bondway proposals enough to make them acceptable, in the absence of new open space]

3 We are pleased to see, as we have argued earlier, that this decision puts the provision of new public space at the heart of the argument about the future development of Vauxhall. It is notable however, despite the community concern about congestion in the access to Vauxhall underground station, that the good nominal public transport accessibility level of Vauxhall (measured in PTALs!) still gives carte blanche to further development. The accepted arguments here emphasise surplus capacity on trains (“only two extra passengers per underground train”), while supposing access issues (gateline closures, escalator capacity etc) can readily be dealt with by small TfL improvements. But the latest TfL estimate for gateline improvements is £18m, currently unfunded, and we are going to have to improve our analysis, if proper weight is to be given in future planning decisions to this issue.

David Boardman
Kennington Association Planning Forum
12 February 2011

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Lambeth Core Strategy

Lambeth’s New Core Strategy
Note by the Kennington Association Planning Forum
1 February 2011
1 The Lambeth Core Strategy was adopted on 19 January 2011 by Lambeth Council, following an Examination in Public before an independent Planning Inspector on four days in September 2010. The report of the Inspector found the strategy to be basically sound, and adoption now paves the way for further consultation on two daughter documents, which fill in more detail, within the framework set by the Strategy. These are the Development Management Document (DMD) and the Site Allocation Document (SAD). At present it is expected that these will be issued for consultation in parallel around April 2011, and be submitted later in the year for Examination in Public before a Planning Inspector at a combined hearing. As it took six months from submission to examination for the Core Strategy itself (March to September 2010) and a further four months from examination to adoption (September 2010 to January 2011), we shall be lucky if we see the completion of this process before the end of 2011.
2 The Inspector’s report reviewed the submitted Strategy under seven headings, which matched the key themes explored at the Examination. These were
·         Issue 1 –Does the overall strategy appropriately address the vision for the whole borough, across the entire plan period, in relation to other plans and strategies and is it consistent with national planning guidance? – essentially yes, says the Inspector; agreed that parts of the borough are not covered by specific policies, but “The fact that parts of the borough are not covered by PN policies or diagrams does not imply that they have been overlooked. On the contrary it reflects that they are more stable places where the scale of any development is such that it can be managed... through the CS strategic policies and through lower level DPDs and SPDs” (paras 10 to 17, especially para 11). This was one of Kennington’s key criticisms of the Strategy, and it remains to be seen how “stable” the environment will be as the Council prepares to sell off many of its key sites for development.
·         Issue 2 – Does the CS make appropriate provision for the supply of housing for the plan period and is its approach to house conversions and affordable housing justified? – supply OK, house conversion policy limitations (not allowed in stressed streets) not prejudicial to achieving targets, address issue of methodology for assessing viability of affordable housing at the DMD stage. (paras 18 to 30)  This was another of Kennington’s issues, and we want a post implementation review of methodology assumptions written into policy.
·         Issue 3 – Does the CS make sound provision for economic development, particularly in terms of the Key Industrial and Business Areas (KIBAs)? – Inspector finds strong demand and limited availability (para 33), but endorses Lambeth’s approach (de-designation of Bondway KIBA to facilitate VNEB OAPF, retention of Southbank House and Newport St KIBA). And note a subtlety: withdrawing KIBA designation reactivates, at least till adoption of site specific guidance in the SAD, an arguably more stringent residual provision (Policy 23 of the otherwise superseded 2007 UDP) protecting employment floor space everywhere outside KIBAs (paras 31 to 41)
·         Issue 4 –Is the CS approach to Metropolitan Open Land sound? – “bolder and more proactive” than the previous plans, says the Inspector of the Strategy’s willingness to de-designate part of the Hungerford Road car park before plans for a cultural facility on it are cut and dried, and she finds this sound.(paras 42 to 45) Our Waterloo colleagues thought this risky and the treatment a deal too summary.
·         Issue 5 – Does the CS provide a sound basis for the scale and location of tall buildings, having in mind the need to protect strategic views and heritage assets?- supporting work is fragmented, especially at Vauxhall, and there needs to be further urban design assessment, as the Strategy policy S9(d) contemplates. But the overall Strategy is sound, says the Inspector (paras 46 to 50). We beg to differ: in our view the failure to adopt the draft 2008 SPD for Vauxhall and finalise and endorse the BDP design study of 2009 gives the Planning Committee far too little to work with in opposing over dense “cluster” development at Vauxhall, in an area of open space deficiency.
·         Issue 6 –Does the CS provide a sound and effective strategy for meeting requirements for open space? – setting a target for the provision of new open space would be unrealistic in an inner London borough where land prices are high and land is subject to many competing demands.” says the Inspector. Lambeth’s approach has yielded some new provision, but addressing improvements to the quantity, quality and access to open space should be part of the DMD (one of the rare changes to the Core Strategy coming out of the Examination) (paras 51 to 53)
·         Issue 7 – Does the CS provide a sound framework for infrastructure,
delivery and monitoring? – broadly yes, says the Inspector, with some minor tidying up language changes and a few new targets to monitor (paras 54 to 57).
3 As we said at the wash up session with the Inspector, it was, in our view, an excessively legalistic process to get to the table (had you made an objection expressly impugning the “soundness” of the policy under discussion that day by the due date) and we had had to contemplate legal action at one stage before a broader view was taken of who could speak. You had to formulate any criticism or suggestions for improvement as an impeachment, as “unsound”, policies that had taken Lambeth planners years to bring to the table.  While it may have focused debate at the Examination, it introduced an unnecessarily adversarial tone into the debate between the Council planners and other parties. For whatever reason, there were only two community groups represented (ourselves and waterloo Community Development Group), but lots of developers. We think the process would have benefited by inviting other amenity groups to the table.
4 But once we were at the table, the formulation of questions by the Inspector, and the focused but reasonably informal style of discussion, made for a realistic probing of the issues, and although the whole process took barely four days, we left the proceedings with a sense that we had been given a fair crack of the whip, even if we differed over the conclusions reached. It is fair to note, however, that our Waterloo colleagues, who have a deal more experience at such affairs than we do, thought the discussion much more truncated than those they had taken part in at the equivalent Examination on the Southwark Core Strategy,  or on the draft replacement London Plan
Follow up
5 The Head of Planning at Lambeth, Les Brown, has offered us at KA a meeting to review any lessons we can learn from the process of consultation on, and examination and adoption of the Core Strategy. If other colleagues think it helpful, we might suggest a wider participation, to include interested amenity societies who might usefully have taken a larger part in the process.

David Boardman
Kennington Association Planning Forum
1 February 2011